So it’s not surprising that I find myself sticking out two days of sweltering heat, public transport debacles and general organisational tomfoolery, purely to be able to mentally high-five that younger, less cynical version of myself circa 1999. While we could spend time lamenting why, for the love of Faith No More, organisers thought it appropriate to schedule the event on one of Melbourne’s busiest weekends (with White Night, Cricket World Cup, and the Flemington Races all bleeding the same city resources) it’s energy better channeled into appreciation of what has become one of the country’s loudest and proudest music festivals in it’s first manifestation as a two day event.
Under a smattering of good old-fashioned strobe lights, Godsmack are in fine form – for the first few songs. Sully Erna is actually looking more dapper than he did 20 years ago and not in the surgically enhanced way of some (Brandon Boyd looks odd lately no?). I’ve had plenty of time to gauge the excitement for these guys after an hour in a park ‘n’ ride shuttle bus line surrounded by audible panic that they might be missed. Thanks go out to the gorgeous goth girl who eyed my fuchsia lipstick suspiciously before agreeing to share a cab.
Erna has the crowd of “sexy motherfuckers”” eating out of his hand. “When this song kicks in full force and Shannon Larkin is hitting his drums, I wanna hear you all!”. Something Different starts and the audience goes wilder, clapping in the intro until the power goes out! And it seems we all have the same thought as a sea of backs turn on the band to check out the spectacle of the Free Style ride with an unfortunate soul stranded at the top (though disappointingly not upside down). It’s only maybe a 3 minute outage but sadly Godsmack struggle to regain momentum despite a spine-tingling Voodoo later in the set.
Millencolin are encouraging a circle pit and shamelessly plugging their new album. It’s an impressive gathering for these skate-punk Swedes and while the circle pit is a fine memory in the making for some, I’m mostly just impressed by the True Brew bear emblem splashed across the stage in a brash promotion. I like the bear. It’s a good bear.
Meanwhile Papa Roach is preaching something about fear. “Motherfuckin fear” to be precise and I laugh out loud to some deservedly dirty looks. Jacoby Shaddix paces the stage with an admirable hemorrhage of energy, seething and panting and while it’s safe to say my own “motherfuckin fear” is in check, people around me are loving him… in a fairly tame kind of way. There are lots of phones in the air and enthusiastic singing along for the likes of Scars. But when a girl beside me gets a shoulder ride that would seem less out of place in the middle of Myer, I decide maybe I’m just too far back to get the vibe properly. I move forward but the most bad-ass thing that happens is someone drops a phone on my head… that and Shaddix sharing a story about an imminent backstage bubble bath with Marilyn Manson.
Marilyn Manson seems surprisingly lucid after his shambolic Australian performances of 2012. Expecting a train wreck, I’m a little disappointed. It’s actually an awesome show and he’s drawn one of the biggest crowds of the day so far. Personal Jesus is as good as it could be short of Johnny Cash himself gracing the stage and Sweet Dreams is an easily digestible sing-along for anyone who has listened to commercial radio at all in the past two decades. There are some fairly lengthy breaks between songs where he ambles aimlessly about the smokey stage, at times disengaged from the audience totally only to transition sharply to chatty banter; “I’m sorry I was trying to score drugs in Australia… It’s very difficult”, (cue Dope Show). By the end of the set his makeup density is doubled and he’s had several novelty mic changes but he’s left behind a satisfied horde.
Over at Stage Four it’s all fire and skulls and 80’s style video backdrops. “Is everybody ready for what we call Judas Priest style heavy metal?” Oddly there are quite a few cowboy hats in this throng so maybe that’s what Rob Halford means? I’m happy to say my own nostalgia doesn’t extend quite this far but by all accounts it’s a good show.
Slash shreds his way through an extra long set, ably backed (or rather fronted) by Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. With gems like Back From Cali showcasing the raw range of their talent, it’s an entertaining show for even the most indifferent of punters (hello) but draws a slightly smaller gathering than I would have expected.
Day One closes with my first bucket list band of the festival; the new incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins. Dressed in modest collared shirts with nothing fancy in the way of stage decoration, there’s no need for cheap tricks here. The ingredients are different to back in the day (not so new anymore guitarist Jeff Schroeder, Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk and The Killers Mark Stoermer all in the recipe) but the band is true to their sound, flawlessly delivering many of the big hits including a begrudgingly administered Disarm. Cherub rock draws the biggest cheer of the evening and Corgan basically leaves us to sing most of Bullet with Butterfly Wings. He seems as relaxed as if he’s playing a gig in his living room, a virtue likely interpreted by some as elitist boredom. Perhaps he’s just deeply immersed in his craft, gifting us guitar solos that solidify his perfectionist notoriety. A cover of Bowie’s Fame is surreal and well received but an extended jam to wrap up the day will be seen by many as self indulgent. He doesn’t call us “motherfuckers”.
Thoughts of Mike Patton are the only thing getting me through some extreme procrastinating, half a packet of band-aids and a very reluctant extrication from air-conditioned comfort to make the long trek (it only takes an hour and a half today) to the showgrounds that are literally a ten minute drive from my house. But sadly a car pool rule excludes this small party from the luxury of such a simple transit. There’s no other band I would do this for.
One of my favourite live discoveries of recent years has been Le Butcherettes when I caught them in Sydney at the end of 2011. So seeing this Mexican garage punk goodness appear on the line-up months ago well and truly sealed my Soundwave fate. I arrive just in time but sadly, wristband shenanigans leave me missing all but ten minutes of their set. I don’t get to observe the faces of the unacquainted and unsuspecting who think “how sweet” as singer Terri Suárez (aka Terri Gender Bender) and drummer Lia Braswell first enter the stage all fresh-faced, cute bangs and retro dresses. Nor the smiles of awe as this charismatic front-woman gets all Emily Rose on their arses with her trademark deranged stage antics so steaming with fervor that every following act will feel like they’re playing an RSL residency.
I arrive as they’re midway through an extended version of I’m Getting Sick of You with Suárez sporting demonic stares punctuated at times by the slightest of stifled smiles where you get the impression she’s actually cracking herself up. She bends over to wave her arse at us before jumping onto the speakers to do something a bit chicken-dance-like and then running through the crowd and out of the room. She doesn’t take the mic she just joins the thoroughfare and grabs a passing girl who obviously has no idea who she is. Suárez hugs her and crouches at her feet with her hands on her legs looking up to her face beseechingly as she chants something (in Mexican?). It’s rock show performance art at it’s finest and I don’t even bother racing to the next act. I know nothing’s really gonna compare.
In stark contrast to the feminist idealogies Le Butcherettes have been known for, Steel Panther are winning over the crowd with cheap humour of the most chauvenistic variety. Yes they’re funny (I do laugh – sue me). But there’s something not quite right about encouraging a whole crowd to bully a young girl into showing her “tits” when said girl has already shaken her head a few times. She gives in with a laugh and of course not all were reluctant. There’s no doubting that for many, these guys got the party started. But I can’t help but wonder how much of this act is pure comedy or comedy as an excuse for dodginess. Either way, they’re onto a winning formula. I’m not going to relay any key quotes in case my mum reads this. Steel Panther – google them.
“Good Evening. We are Aluminium Panther…” Cedric Bixler-Zavala is only a couple of metres in front of me because the Antemasque crowd is surprisingly sparse. They open with In the Lurch as I’m wondering if I’m the only girl here. Nope there are a couple of us. Further back people are actually just lying on the grass taking these guys in. Cedric introduces the “Puerto Rican Woody Allen” as Omar Rodríguez-López gives a wry grin and continues his usual modest guitar prodigy antics. Whilst this was a must-see act for me, many would have been deterred by the extended jamming that’s characteristic of all outfits who have sported an Antemasque member in the past.
My planned evening of 90’s nostalgia has well and truly set in with Incubus taking the stage. And they’re straight into the most commercial crowd-pleaser they own with Wish You Were Here. The sound is terrible. Not enough bass. Not enough volume. But that’s not their fault. They are energetic and flawless in their ability to deliver each tiresome track with the fervor craved by the masses… and they have drawn masses here today. It should be said that they are excellent musicians, each doing their amazing part against the progressive strip tease that is Brandon Boyd’s armour. But aside from a couple of old flashbacks including Nice to Know You and Pardon Me, and despite the sighs of admiration for Boyd that surround me, I find myself just wishing he’d put it away.
One of the most widely observed names on band shirts over this weekend is Soundgarden and no matter how bogan the wearer, I feel a sense of geeky kinship. The usual Superunknown style graphics are now splashed across the stage backdrop and the big screens reflect them in black and white to give that exaggerated low-fi 90’s touch. Opening with Searching With My Good Eye Closed, they power through the early days of Badmotorfinger and Superunknown to a bedazzled aggregate. I’m close enough to the front that I can see little beads of sweat under Kim Thayil’s hat and if I start talking about Chris Cornell (and the way his hair falls about his face as he cups that mic) I won’t stop. Great show.
It seems my cheeky plan to listen to the second half of Soundgarden whilst finding the perfect spot for today’s main event at the adjacent stage is not all that creative. How long have people been camped here? I start to dread this crowd as it becomes clear people are also pretty darn defensive of their lot. There are maybe 20 people up on that stage arranging giant compositions of flowers against a backdrop of white drapery. A very tongue in cheek curation. Very Faith No More.
As Soundgarden finish up, moon river emanates from the Stage 1 speakers and before long Mike Patton is right there in front of me wearing a white face mask and surgical gloves of course. Motherfucker is the opener (just in case they didn’t fit in here today), and it’s followed by old King For a Day, Fool For A Lifetime favourites peppered with Angel Dust sweeteners. Roddy Bottum and Patton both MC tonight’s proceedings and every time Patton does anything someone screams. And that’s exactly as it should be.
Midlife Crisis is punctuated by an In The Jungle interlude and it turns out I’ve misjudged my neighbours in my prime spot at the front as I’m treated to a half arsed slow dance slash sweaty hug during Easy. Patton leaves us to sing along as he has a snack on stage. “That’s for you in the cheap seats back there!” There’s some banter about how “fucking old” they are now and Patton says he feels 87. We’ll still love you at 87 MP. Thanks for the laughs.
Melbourne Soundwave 2015.
Was it worth it?
Will I do it again?
Ask me after my feet have healed.